A host of names have been linked with a move to Liverpool in the last few days, since it was first reported that Sadio Mané will likely leave the club this summer. Mané is set to tell the club that after six years, he wants to try a fresh challenge abroad.
Since then, a flood of names have cropped up about who will replace Mané. One such name is Milan forward Rafael Leão. The Portuguese forward has just come off of a starring role in Milan’s first Scudetto in 11 years, and as his stock is rising fast, Liverpool and a host of other sides are being linked with the 22-year-old.
Leão has, since moving to Italy, always been considered a rough diamond, a player who has enormous potential, but just makes the wrong decision at the vital moment, or has a lack of end product.
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Those days are no more however. He became the clutch player for Milan in the title run-in, scoring seven goals in the second half of the season and especially so in the last five matches of the season, scoring or contributing in every one of them as he turned on the style .
Leão finished the season with 11 goals and 10 assists in Serie A, and this has now made many sit up and take notice of one of Portugal’s future best players. Liverpool have been linked on a couple of occasions, while Manchester City, according to Footmercato, could ‘go crazy’ for him as a replacement for Raheem Sterling, while Real Madrid and PSG are said to be keen.
Valued at £ 45m by website Transfermarkt, La Gazzetta dello Sport wrote recently that there is little chance that Milan would settle for anything less than € 100m (£ 85m) for Leão. Moreover, the club’s sporting director Paolo Maldini said recently that Leão is an ‘untouchable’ in terms of a potential departure, and that he’s one of the cornerstones of the new and vibrant Milan.
Furthermore, with the club soon to be taken over by RedBird, Milan have no financial issues and no monetary reason to sell one of their crown jewels. But should Leão feel that he’s accomplished all he can with Milan, having won the Scudetto, should Liverpool make their interest in the player known?
Leão still has reams of potential that’s still untapped. Despite improving so much this season under Stefano Pioli, there’s still further development needed in his game. A coach like Jürgen Klopp would love to have a player like Leão under his watch.
Described as the ‘Portuguese Mbappé’, Leão came through the academy system at Sporting Lisbon. Tiago Fernandes, one of his coaches there, described him as ‘the best player in the history of the Sporting academy’ – better than Cristiano Ronaldo.
On a tactical level, Leão would fit in quite nicely at Liverpool. Milan have generally tended to play with three attacking players behind a striker. In their system Leão has occupied the left-hand side of the attacking trio, and as such could play in that same role under Klopp in Liverpool’s 4-3-3 system.
However with Luis Díaz now at the club, it remains to be seen if Leão would be a necessary purchase, as he can not play through the middle in the way that Mané shifted into the role halfway through the season.
Liverpool would be better served with signing a No.9, or one that can alternate between a No.10 and a No.9 like vintage Roberto Firmino or Mané, rather than someone like Leão, who is more of a winger.
If Liverpool hadn’t signed Díaz in January, then a move for Leão this summer would make perfect sense. But as it is, there’s probably no need for him.